Peripheries: Western Pacific D-1 (8 July, 1987) **


The Western Pacific was an area ripe with potential flashpoints in early July, 1987. For the past week the main concern for US commanders in the Pacific was attempting to outline what the Soviet strategy in the WestPac area would be in the event of war. Coming in a close second was deciphering the situation on the Korean peninsula and trying to determine if the North Koreans would come south across the DMZ. US Pacific Command had a substantial number of concerns on its plate, and most of them were located west of the International Dateline. The main issue in theater was the size and expanse of the Western Pacific in comparison to US forces in or near the region. PACOM could not project power effectively everywhere simultaneously. A buildup of Soviet forces near the Philippines might draw away some US forces tagged for the defense of Japan, leaving a vulnerability  the Soviets could then exploit at their leisure.

The Soviets were certainly not telegraphing their intentions. The majority of their air and naval forces in the Western Pacific were going about regular activities with no sign of increased readiness apparent. Routine patrols were conducted. An occasional Tu-95 Bear took off from Cam Rahn Bay and flew out to the vicinity of the Philippines. These flights prompted scrambles of US F-4s from Clark AB. The Phantoms would intercept the Bears and escort them out of the area. The aircrews on both side were professional and cordial. Neither side behaved as if it expected to be shooting the other in a matter of days. At sea, Soviet AGIs continued trailing US aircraft carrier group in the region. Only in these cases, the Soviet’s apprehension was quite apparent and understandable. The trawler crews understood that if hostilities began, they would likely become the first casualties of the war at sea. The close distance they kept to US carriers and their escorts essentially guaranteed a short lifespan in wartime.

The Red Banner Pacific Fleet was nowhere near as brazen as their AGI comrades. Most of the fleet’s surface ships and attack submarines remained at anchorage in Vladivostok, while its SSBNs sat tied up to their quays at Petropavlosk. Unlike the Red Banner Northern Fleet, Black Sea Squadron, and Baltic Fleet, Russia’s Pacific Fleet was not making an overt move. Whether this would translate to an absence of Soviet military moves in the Pacific or not remained to be seen. The US Navy was not taking any chances though. 7th Fleet only had one aircraft carrier in the area, USS Midway. Her battle group was steaming towards a station in the Sea of Japan at current. Ranger and her battle group was steaming west, however, it would be another week before they were available for operations. Until then, one carrier group was not going to be enough to challenge the Red Banner Pacific Fleet if it sortied, or enough to start working over military targets in Vladivostok and the Kamchatka area.

Korea was the other major concern for PACOM. The North Koreans were an unpredictable bunch. It wouldn’t be beyond them to launch an invasion of South Korea if South’s most powerful ally was distracted. Since the possibility existed, US forces in South Korea, Japan, and Okinawa could not be committed elsewhere. That in itself might prove to be enough to entice North Korea into moving south. The South Korean armed forces had come a long way in the past decade. Their equipment was modern and their officer corps highly motivated. If push came to shove on the peninsula, the South Koreans would acquit themselves well. It was the United States tripwire in Korea, however, that had deterred the North Koreans from remaining on its side of the DMZ  since the 1950s.

With war clouds moving in across the globe, the Commander-In-Chief of the Pacific Admiral Ron Hays, USN was confident in his command, and thankful that at least for the moment, his primary opponent did not appear eager to initiate a major action in the near future. That could change though. According to the last report from Washington, the probability of war breaking out between the United States and Soviet Union in the next 24 hours was estimated to be at 92% as of 1200 Honolulu time.



2 Replies to “Peripheries: Western Pacific D-1 (8 July, 1987) **”

  1. ‘A buildup of Soviet forces near the Philippines might draw away some US forces tagged for the defense of Japan,’ – pretty much a peripheral issue for Russia, I’d have thought.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Pretty much peripheral, but if they can tie up US forces that might potentially be used for attacks on Soviet territory, it takes on a new importance


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